The Man Beseeches—
His tear-filled eyes plea
for help that will come too late
for the child he bears in his arms,
her lifeless body wrapped in a blood-stained winding sheet.
We cannot hear his anguished cries—
we know only that the closing of the shutter
has forever silenced that second of sorrow.
Look at him closely:
his furrowed brow and his fallen jaw
are mirrored on his daughter’s face,
now carefree in death.
The blood of his child seeps onto his dark shirt
and mingles there with his own unseen wounds,
memorialized now forever in the images
we ingest in the cloaked safety
of our existence,
completely removed from his pain.
What are we to do with this man,
this manifestation of his country’s destruction?
Our words will not help him,
our wallets will not find him,
our shame will not touch him,
and sooner than we would like,
our guilt will render him into nothingness.
He is looking in the wrong direction,
this man beseeching.
And All of the Angels Will Weep
I am tired of wallowing and weary of being tired,
past the point of painful outpourings of my soul
and pointedly looking past the wasteland in which I am mired.
I could remain here, wasting my time in sorrow,
or I can keep in my heart the remains of unspent dreams
and dream of a tomorrow without wasteful worry.
I might share my secrets with the dark angels who hover;
then cover my face like the wings of the seraphim,
and close my ears to their whispered, burning songs.
Perhaps I could carve from the marble the cherubim of the sphere;
Stand in their light and beg them to swallow my fears
Lighting the way with their perfect knowledge and the company of ophanim
But ultimately, I fear to make the angels weep
Leaden with the weight of imperfect knowledge
I cannot wait for the protection of Malakh wat watim
So I will travel the path alone.
Desperate, you call me—an accusation not an observation
What am I to do with this word:
Its three syllables an anomaly to my sense of self ?
Do I embrace it with the enmity used to utter it?
Do I tuck it away within one of the four corners of my heart
And let it gnaw me from the inside out?
Help me if you can:
I, who have only felt this sensation once in my life,
Feel ill-equipped to interpret this sentiment, this emotion
The one with which you have cloaked me.
I can only assume that in placing this mantle upon my shoulders
You have predetermined that it should be mine.
I ask you to tell me, translate the words behind this word,
So powerful when given voice, weight,
But far beyond my abilities to comprehend or understand.
I have felt love, hate, at times, indifference
I have been bitter, bereft, and discontent
I know the ways of anger, impatience, and violation.
Tenderness, comfort, and sanctity are woven into my credo
But I have only tasted the barren territory of desperation once,
And that encounter left me hollow and bone-dry.
Having swallowed the bitter taste of despair, I have never desired a reunion
But if this is what you see when you look in my direction,
Perhaps I returned without knowing I was on this path.
Your claims of deep love seem to be contrary to your assertion
If I have been reduced to this caricature
Of your father’s words come to fruition
If this is so, then I can no longer claim you
As the one who loves unconditionally
Who arrived when not sought
I can no longer credit you as the soul-mate
Who marked my heart indelibly as his own
Or who loved me best among others
I would not have you see me in this unforgiving light
I would rather be seen not at all
Than as this albatross called desperation.
Into the night we move
restless, footsteps heavy with grief
and guilt. We do not speak about these things,
these things that enter the spaces between us and hang
like veils of thick smoke, the long ash of a cigarette left burning
intentions not kept, never intended as promises—
We keep the silences of our anger alive, synchronous
with drops of rain on black panes of glass and the second hand
of my favorite old watch, left to wind down from disuse and neglect:
Past caring, we have forsaken the fraying thread of our conversation
at the beginning
where we began—this flaying of words
fraught with sadness.
We do not acknowledge these things—
the deep wounds created by the unrelenting intent of our desires
laid bare, left abandoned to heavy-hearted despair and needful disquietude:
Neither touching nor speaking, we pass one another, leave by different doors
for our separate journeys
into the night.
Here I stand—earth beneath my feet,
sky above my head, and the rain pours down from the heavens,
rolls off my lashes in rivulets, puddles around my feet
I would stand here all night if I could
to be bathed in this cool rain
even as I sink gradually into the wet grass.
I have nowhere to go, no place to be—
Whether or not I even belong in this world
is a looming question as I feel
out of place and part of no time.
So I stand here in my natural communion
waiting for the moment when I can finally hide myself
within this liquid wall of sanctuary.
Given a choice, I would be consumed by water
rather than face one more day of tears.
Penia Speaks to Eros
What if I were to leave and never return?
Would you notice the lack of my presence,
or would you continue with your chaotic existence
a world that nothing penetrates
made for you and you alone.
What would you do if everyone around you
were as covetous as you,
feeling entitled to everything
without ever once contemplating
how it makes its way to you . . .
How would you feel if I failed to keep my promises
when you have always known that I would?
I wonder if it would be anything
more than an inconvenience to you
in your ability to continue to take when you please
leaving nothing but cruelty,
bitter and sweet, or
indiscriminate charisma and charm.
What if I were to leave and never return?
What if the earth suddenly ceased
its eternal revolution on its axis
and you fell off because none of your anchors
remained to keep you grounded
to remind you
that you may be only human
and even humans need guidance occasionally
from mere demi-gods.
*Eros is the child of Porus (Expedience) and Penia (Poverty). Like Penia, Eros was said to always be in search of something, and like Porus, he always found a means of attaining his aims.
Memory assails me
pierces my being,
sharp as a needle
withdraws recall like blood
in its relentless pursuit
to overtake my consciousness.
Vial after vial it sucks.
It will not be sated
until it possesses all,
each and every hoarded corpuscle
of forgotten remembrance.
It matters not that I bathed
carefully in the waters of Lethe,
bartered for reborn innocence
in exchange for my soul.
There may as well be rubber tubing
pulled tautly ‘round my arm
forcing my veins to yield their secrets
like an addict,
and China White coursing through my body
giving me sweet relief from the unrelenting assault.
I awake on the floor,
naked, battered, and sore,
remember everything in its stark detail,
all of the years of hiding
gone, stripped from me.
I cannot put back
what has been released
I cannot unsee
what is burnished now in blood
on the broken shards of mirror
strewn about on the tiles surrounding me.
This now, is what awaits me—
past is present,
Step into now.
had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees
in the dense woods behind the house.
Her mother had lain securely in its curves,
and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.
Years later, spring brought her own girl child.
Each night, she would lay the baby in the cradle,
cover her with a soft blanket,
and soothe her with hushed lullabies
whispered in the summer twilight.
With her hand on the knotted wood
worn smooth by time and love,
the woman would rock the bed gently,
and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.
The tranquility of this evening ritual
became the woman’s talisman for her babe
against the dark and unknown.
Until the day arrived
when the girl-child became ill,
and was taken away
to be succored by strangers.
never to return to the enfolding arms
of the woman or the idle cradle.
the woman would stand by the cradle in the evening,
and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.
Alone in the terrible stillness,
she would gather the blanket in her arms,
and inhale deeply–searching for the essence
that might still cling to the barren cloth.
Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,
her hands seeking warmth
from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.
Once, she found a single, dark hair,
She wrapped it in white tissue and placed it in a box,
along with a small, cloth doll
and a faded red bow she had tied in her daughter’s hair
one fall morning.
Her husband never understood
her need to find solace from things no longer used.
He wanted to remove the cradle,
the source of her pain.
But she asked him to leave it
until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,
until she could imprint all that the child had been,
before time began to fade the image,
and she would be left alone,
with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle
and echoes of soft night songs of love.
My father’s hands
are gnarled and time worn
Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,
leaving his hands weak and small.
They remind me of a monkey’s hands—
brown and leathery.
These hands that have tended to so many machines,
fixed so many moving parts,
these same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads
and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.
With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,
patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.
He has cast lines into many waters
and unhooked his catch again and again,
alone under the moon on warm summer nights.
These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler,
blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,
before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,
and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel
from my skinned knees,
patched my wounds, only to let me go again.
They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite
that I had to have but could never get to take flight
and taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood
and make a seam true.
I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net
with the same careful tenderness
as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.
And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman
from a deadly current
with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.
A world away in another lifetime,
my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete
in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind
but never forgot.
Now, I watch his hands move back and forth
in morphine dreams,
sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.
I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets
and knit them to and fro, over and over.
In the few moments when they are still,
I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,
against my beating heart—
they are so diminished within my own.
that have labored and loved
harvested and hewn
These hands are the man he was
and the life he lived.
And now that his days are waning,
I want nothing more
than to be taken back to that one innocent moment
when everything was safe,
and nothing could harm me
because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,
taken back to that instant
when he held the fender of my bike
and guided me on the path.
touched me on the shoulder once
before setting me free to find my way.
your attempts to scandalize
are too simplistic—
having already gone there
with my red streaks, black hair,
black and red talons
silver rings on every finger
patchouli oil and incense,
offers to read cards and fortunes—why not?
Be more inventive, less marginal
You want to prove something?
Get a job, or lurn to spell,
be different from the fray.
All of those holes in your eyebrow, nose,
And all the way down both your earlobes,
paint on your neck and breasts—
nothing remains sacrosanct . . .
Only a sad animé now
where once you were a young gurl
who waited, wept about daddy
and dressed your Barbie
in pretty pink dresses.
But daddy left home
and Barbie was all alone.
Little gurl lost, perhaps
you had more to wonder about then,
in your black patent Mary Janes
and white lace socks,
More than you can ever accomplish now
in the tortured performance art
that your life has become.
So despondent and blue.
No tears shed for you,
Poor little pink-haired gurl.
What Gertrude Already Knew
There is the boy she loves.
She tells him
their love is poison.
it will leave all who touch its periphery
scarred and defeated.
But he hears only
the unbridled quickening of his heart
wishes it to be inside her own,
in that hollow beneath the ribs,
next to the soul.
Wants the two hearts
to find their way
toward a dangerous but consoling rhythm.
This will destroy me, drive me mad, she whispers,
but he encases her protests with his innocent consolation,
unspoiled by the lies of time
her voice, thick with despair.
the pain that will come when you leave—
it will consume me with an Ophelia madness
that I will drown in
if I am to survive.
I will not leave you, he promises.
He is so pure in his vow.
He does not know, cannot begin to glean
what is to come.
There is no map to guide him across this landscape,
so hot and golden with their want
that the waves threaten to bury them before they can love.
Even as she acquiesces,
her mind, taught by consequence and loss,
knows, despite his earnest protests,
he will leave, and she will be alone
Smell of wood-smoke,
the glow of dying embers
cast back into a different time,
making love before the fire,
blankets tangled among pillows
awaking to dawn’s chill, the fire’s warmth
just a wisp of memory, gone